Malawi has suspended its law which criminalizes gay sex as lawmakers consider repealing it altogether.

President Joyce Banda, who ascended to her position in April after the death of her predecessor, President Bingu wa Mutharika, backed repeal of the law shortly after assuming her office.

Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara said Malawi's indecency and unnatural acts laws would be set aside until parliament votes on a new law.

Gay men face up to 14 years imprisonment if convicted under the statutes.

“If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government,” Reuters quoted Kasambara as saying. “It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.”

Sexual conduct between people of the same sex is banned in 37 African countries.

If repealed, Malawi would become the first African country in nearly two decades to decriminalize gay relationships.

In 2010, then-President Mutharika pardoned two men who were charged with and found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency for participating in a symbolic engagement ceremony. However, Mutharika remained opposed to gay rights, describing the gay ceremony as “satanic” and “a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws.” The men had been sentenced to serve 14 years of hard labor.

The sentence was condemned by the United States and Britain. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley called the harsh sentence “appalling.”